LIKE FATHER ... LIKE SONS
by DONNA FEDERANKO-STOUT
"Hello. May I speak to Doctor Rapone please? '" Reply - "Which Doctor Rapone?"
Doctor Julius Rapone was a solo act for the longest time but now after many years of hard work and a lot of college money later, he's practicing
real "family dentistry" with his two sons, Anthony and David .. , and he sure couldn't be happier about it!
Doctor Julius Rapone came to Penns Grove, a young dentist straight out of Temple Dental School in Philadelphia, ready to take on the war with
plaque and tooth decay. The youngest of 12 children from a small coal-mining town called Summitt Hill in Pennsylvania, he was the only one who
had gotten a college education. And now he is a Dentist!
Times were not good back home with the closing of many mines and lack of jobs. He knew it would be hard to start a dental practice there. He
first thought south to the seashore, but felt it was too cold and desolate in the winter. He settled on Salem County. "I was really headed to
Pennsville," he says, "because they only had 1 dentist then and Penns Grove had 4." But the price of a home in Pennsville was too high for a
dentist who was just starting out. While riding through Penns Grove one day, he spotted a house on South Broad Street that was for sale. He
struck up a deal and he and his young wife, Mary (Bilka) who had been his high-school sweetheart, heading for Penns Grove and their family's
future in dentistry, that neither of them could have imagined.
"I went around to introduce myself to the other dentists in town," Doc says, "then I hung out my sign and put a notice in the paper and waited for
the patients to come." They had converted most of the downstairs into the dental office and Mary, who was a registered nurse, became
receptionist, dental assistant, bookkeeper and more. "She handled everything," says Doc, "I just worked there." As the children came along, Mary
kept up the pace in the office while taking good care of her young family. "She was a wonderful girl," he says.
Their daughter Judy was followed by a son, Anthony and then a second son, David. As their family grew, so did the practice and in 1960, they
built an office on Harding Highway in Carneys Point. He worked in the practice by himself, which meant late nights and taking care of two patients at
once. It also meant missing dinner more times than he could count. "It always seemed I had to work late when Mary was making my favorite, pork
chops," he says.
Warm and personable people, the young Rapones had made friends easily when they came to this little town in South Jersey. Friendships that
have lasted over the years.
Doc has always been known for his sense of humor. He loves to tell jokes, stories and his favorite one-liners. I guess it's because he's the kind of
person who enjoys people and he enjoys his work. Enjoys being a dentist? "I enjoy being a dentist" he says, "I feel bad when someone is in pain,
but when I'm done and they feel better, I feel good." He adds, "I know they don't want to be there (in the dentists chair) so that's why I tell them
jokes." The love of his work has one thing that inspired his sons to become dentists and join him in the practice. "I guess it was the way Dad
portrayed the profession." Says Anthony, "If he had come home complaining about his work, I might not have wanted to become a dentist." He
adds, "He really enjoys it." David echoes his brother's sentiments. Something else that the two brothers agree on his how hard it was to get there.
Doc Rapone knew what his boys were in for when they asked to go to dental school. First college then dental school with its 9 to 5 schedule and
not much time left for studying or little else. David did find time to find a study partner who became his life partner, his wife Debbie, who is a
registered pharmacist. All his children attended Temple too.
Doc had always let the kids help around the dentist office, but he never pushed them into a dental career. "Mary and I always wanted them to be
whatever they wanted to be." He says. "I knew dental school would be hard and I wanted to make sure they really wanted to do it." He adds. Not
only did the boys become dentists, Judy became a dental hygienist and then married a dentist. She now lives not far from her parent's hometown in
Pennsylvania. She followed in her mother's footsteps, taking care of the office when her husband was just starting out. It's funny how even family
history can repeat itself.
While the boys were in dental school, Doc built an addition to the office ready for them when they graduated. Both sons think it's great to be in
practice with their Dad. "If you have a question, there's always two consultations right down the hall," Anthony says. Having the boys there has
taken some of the pressure off of Doc yet he still keeps up his patient load but he can now spend more time at seminars and a little more time with
his favorite past-time, golf. One thing has definitely changed around the office, the music "They outvoted me." He says. No more "Doc Rapone"
The Rapones have always been a close family. Even though Judy lives several hours away, they all talk regularly and are together for all the
holidays. Doc enjoys the trips up to see her, his four grandchildren and the visits to his old hometown. David's three year old, David, has a great
time visiting his grandfather too. Anthony is still at home with his Dad.
Having the family closeness is what has helped ease the pain when they lost Mary to cancer a little over 3 years ago. "Family was the most
important thing to her," says Doc, "she did a lot of sacrificing, especially in those early years." He adds, "She deserves all the credit." He misses
her very much. You can see it in his eyes.
Doc has been honored by the State of New Jersey, National Foundation of Dentistry and Colgate-Palmolive for rendering his services to the
needy, the handicapped, the elderly and medically compromised. He's come a long way from the little office on South Broad Street where 3 fillings
were just $7.00 and a gold cap was only $50.00. "We're the only profession who is trying to put themselves out of business." He says. With
fluoridation and people taking more care with their teeth, there are fewer dental horror stories today. "Dentistry in the future will be more cosmetic,"
says David, adding, "People are more concerned about the way that they look." Techniques such as bonding and caps can give someone a new
smile. "People will be happier going to the dentist." he says. But as long as there are dental problems, the Rapone family will come to the rescue.
"Just pretend that the person sitting in the chair is your mother or sister, Dad would tell us." Says Anthony, he adds, "Always be patient with your